Mikkel Carl’s new exhibition at Annaelle Gallery assumes the structure and, as it were, content of a two-headed Janus – the god of transition presiding over doors and marking the shift between war and peace in antiquity. Similarly, the show oscillates along different conceptual lines, aesthetic thresholds and material misperceptions.
A wall dividing the front and back of the otherwise dazzling space sports grey MDF boards with white filling paste between the joints. One might think that the gallery could at least have finished the building job. And so it is that the wall not only divides the space, but also the viewers: those who have visited Annaelle after the gallery’s recent relocation may remember that the wall has existed all along. It is not newly built, but newly blinded. The MDF sheets cover its surface in a twisted form of camouflage, like organs appearing on the outside of the body. In fact, an edible marzipan sculpture in the form of a ripped-off arm with bones sticking out is placed near the gallery entrance. As for the wall – what artist and writer Andrew Birk calls «immaculate Stockholm» in his post-technological sounding exhibition text – it has had another layer added to its façade.
Mikkel Carl is known for his interest in merging minimalist and conceptual art with relational aesthetics. The division between initiated and non-initiated visitors with regard to the gallery architecture seems to mimic the separation between those knowing and those unaware of the discourses and codes of art prevailing since the historical avant-gardes. The exhibition submits its visitors to a test; relational aesthetics gone bonkers.
Leaning against the MDF-covered wall is a gravestone-like disc in anthracite hues. On the surrounding walls, works looking like flat panels cut from different stones are hung equidistant along a horizontal axis. A small triangular shape is awkwardly installed on a protruding pillar according to the measurements of the rigid hanging system. Another piece appears like a green marble block with straight side and bottom cuts and an irregular top edge, as if it had broken into two pieces. Many of the contours recall shapes found in domestic environments (perhaps the negative space inside a doorway) and are reminiscent of Franz West’s «Passstücke» – hybrids between relational, spatial and discursive objects.
Yet, upon closer examination, what looked like heavy solid materials reveal themselves as paintings. Carl lets acrylics seep through felt-like carpets with one side covered by transparent plastic, like those used to protect the floor at building sites. Here, the plastic does not protect the floor, but the cloth itself, creating another Janus-twist.
Carl’s paintings are aesthetically interesting, yet the hanging indicates an artist more fascinated by the ideas behind them. The result is a conceptually loaded and perceptually perplexing double-position. The exhibition is a painting show without paintings, and a sculpture show without sculptures, in which paintings pass as sculptures and vice versa. With his marble lookalikes created from tinctured felt, Carl does not deceive but rather, shows the materials as they are, and simultaneously as they are not. The pieces do not simulate anything. Instead, they suggest that whatever substance minimalism was trying to get closer to did not exist in the first place. Carl brings out the wall by making it look like a wall. This is not reality as we know it, but reality as it could be, and perhaps therefore – like minimalist artist Robert Ryman said of his own work – best described paradoxically as realist art.